It’s mid December, and there is a peculiar migration occurring overhead. You might hear — if you listen carefully — not the honks of Canada geese, but pentatonic scales and ii V7 cadences, high-hat patter, and upright bass thump. Yes, it is time for the winter return of those illustrious jazz birds, that collegiate clique of high fliers that hail from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, N.Y.C.’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, MIT, University of North Texas (UNT), UCLA, and Biola University. Here they will undoubtedly enjoy family reunions and reprieves from the books, but they will also flock with like-feathered friends from UCSB, SBCC, and SBHS to produce what is promising to be an extraordinary year-end blowout for jazz lovers.

The second annual An Afternoon of Great Jazz, Song and Friends will feature all-star alumni from all three area public high schools. Saxophonist Lito Hernandez and multi-instrumentalist Robert Harrell are the artistic directors of the event. Hernandez is a fourth-year student and Presidential Scholar at the prestigious Berklee College in Boston. Harrell, in his second year at Biola, plays nine instruments, including bass, brass, and woodwinds. Another SBHS alum, saxophonist and flutist Andrew Adams, a junior at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, is serving as event coordinator. Also on the bill will be pianist Peter Clark with songstress Nansie Chapman, as well as a current SBHS quintet.

Bassist Victor Murillo
Courtesy Photo

All-Star personnel also include bassist Victor Murillo (Berklee), sax men Aaron Dutton (Regents jazz scholar, UNT) and Jared Yee (Berklee), trumpet wunderkind Harrison Swalley (Berklee), percussionist Matt Raphaelian (Berklee), trombonist Mariel Bildsen (New School for Jazz, N.Y.C.), and vocalist Savannah Meares (UCLA). Area musicians are SBHS students Brendan Smyth, Chet Stussy, Vito Di Novi, and Johnny Weger.

If the pedigree of these stars looks impressive, even more mind-boggling are the long lists of awards, festivals, residencies, and a who’s who of professional mentors that includes Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It is not happenstance that Santa Barbara is seeing such a concentration of strength and success in these young musicians, says music education advocate Denise Adams (mother of Andrew Adams). There has been a strong culture of jazz education that dates back to the 1950s tenure of SBHS music teacher Henry Brubeck (older brother to the legendary Dave Brubeck, who passed away December 5). Several of these young players are “Brubeck Scholars” — recipients of an extant scholarship established in the teacher’s name. And they have all been helped by a network of music teachers and mentors that include Ike Jenkins, Chuck Wood, SBCC’s Monday Madness group, and Charles Ortega. Furthermore, there is a culture of informal instruction, with the experienced players helping the lesser, college musicians assisting high school students, and high schoolers, in turn, helping junior high students. Much of this is entirely voluntary. It is a fact, says Adams, that many of these gifted players were able to develop as musicians without expensive private lessons. “They are all good at donating their time and mentoring. They take care of each other; as my son always says, they are a ‘band of brothers’ — or, more politically correct now, ‘band of siblings.’ Whether male or female, we take care of each other, and if you want to learn, you’re going to learn.”

Event officials are hoping to see the Afternoon of Great Jazz, Song and Friends become an annual tradition that will eventually raise funds for public school jazz — especially festival competitions, now struggling from deep budget cuts.


An Afternoon of Great Jazz, Song and Friends takes place Friday, December 28, 3:30-7:30 p.m., at the Montecito Country Club, 920 Summit Road. Tickets can be purchased at the Lobero Box Office, Nick Rail Music, Cold Spring School, and at the door. $15 in advance; $20 day of the event. Call (805) 969-5459 or email for more information.


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